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Testing and contact tracing: Premier League in the age of COVID-19

Four more sit out

Tottenham Hotspur Return to Training Following the Relaxing of Covid-19 Restrictions Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

The second round of COVID-19 testing across the Premier League — an average of 47 players, coaches, and staff tested at each of the 20 member clubs for a total count of 996 — has identified two more positive cases, while two others have also been flagged for isolation through contact tracing.

Those four join the previous six from the first round of testing at the start of the week in sitting out for at least seven days. The most recent guidelines we had seen indicated that two consecutive negative tests would be required to come back to active duty.

“The Premier League can today confirm that on Tuesday 19 May, Thursday 21 May and Friday 22 May, 996 players and club staff were tested for COVID-19. Of these, two have tested positive from two clubs.

“Players or club staff who have tested positive will now self-isolate for a period of seven days.

“For the second round of testing, the number of tests available to each club was increased from 40 to 50. Previously, 748 players and club staff were tested for COVID-19 on 17-18 May, with six testing positive from three clubs. The six who tested positive in the first round of testing are not included in the figures for 19-22 May, as they are still within their seven-day self-isolation period.

“The Premier League is providing this aggregated information for the purposes of competition integrity and transparency. No specific details as to clubs or individuals will be provided by the League and results will be made public after each round of testing.”

-Premier League statement

Ten total absentees sounds like a lot, but only 8 of the 1744 tests conducted over the two rounds came back positive. Those who came back negative from these first two tests — i.e. the vast majority of players, coaches, and staff — should have tremendous confidence that not only are they virus-free (the false negative rate of two consecutive tests is claimed to be 1-in-7000, or 0.014%) but others around them are virus-free as well.

This of course relies on the “clean” individuals to practice social distancing and avoid contact with people outside of their bubble.

Two additional Watford players have gone into isolation this weekend precisely because they came into close contact with someone else who has the coronavirus. Even though their own tests came back negative, those two players will now also isolate for seven days out of an abundance of caution.

Here’s Watford boss Nigel Pearson explaining this bit of contract-tracing in action.

“We’ve had a couple more people who have to be in isolation because they’ve been in close contact with people who have tested positive, even though their own result came back negative. [...] The regulations [state] that people who have had relatively close contact with other people have to go into isolation – in the same way as someone who has tested positive.”

-Nigel Pearson; source: Guardian

While it’s unfortunate that Watford are thus down three players, including Adrian Mariappa, a couple staff members, plus those choosing to stay at home, including Troy Deeney, the system looks to be working as intended in identifying and isolating the infected and letting the rest keep calm and carry on.

Many won’t find (enough) comfort or confidence in that still, including Chelsea’s own N’Golo Kanté, but the harsh reality of our new coronvirus’d existence is that we’ll need to keep testing and tracing to try to fight the spread of the disease that’s not going away anytime soon. In fact, ideally, we’d all have the resources being used in the Premier League right now, but if nothing else, this specific bubble is showing that these methods are feasible and workable, at least on this small scale.

“We ran a very thorough consultation with club doctors. We have done everything we possibly can to make return to training as safe as possible.

“We think it is safe to return. We have to respect players’ decisions not to return to training. I would be comfortable to return to training.”

-Richard Masters, Premier League CEO; source: BBC

The league will meet in a few days to discuss and vote on plans for phase two of Project Restart, which would include full-contact training as well. No official date has been set for games to resume, but mid-to-late June, June 19 weekend, seems the most likely at the moment.

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